There were a lot of emotions running rampant at Carver Arena that night. Bradley was playing rival SIU in what was sure to be a tight game, while missing its star senior player Daniel Ruffin, who was sitting on the bench suspended from the team after a Domestic Battery arrest over the weekend. Ruffin was allowed to take part in the senior ceremonies and there was an almost tangible electricity in the air as Bradley fans rallied in their support for him.
But my dad and I were there because of a different emotion. Another one of the seniors being celebrated that night, Jeremy Crouch, is from our hometown, and he's the first person from our town to play basketball at Bradley for four years of college. Not only that, he was poised to set two new school records that night for three-point shooting, and we were there to show off our hometown pride. Unfortunately, I think all of that was lost amongst the dark cloud of Ruffin's experience - and continues to be even today as blog debates over Ruffin's guilt or innocence rage on.
It didn't take long for Jeremy to get the first record early in the game and so my dad and I settled in to watch the game.
That's when Mr. Obnoxious SIU Fan showed up.
There's always one, right? I don't know why, but I am really bothered by the way these high-tier obnoxious fans act at ball games and it truly takes away from my enjoyment of the event. I become so fixated on what they're saying and doing and how completely out of line it is that I have trouble just watching the game.
This guy showed up with what I presume to be his wife or girlfriend, another woman and two small children who were probably about 4 and 2 years of age. We were sitting about as high up in the stands as you could get and since we got our tickets pretty late, there were a fair amount of other SIU fans sprinkled in there.
But this Mr. Obnoxious SIU Fan quickly proved himself a standout.
Dancing, jeering, laughing at Bradley point misses, he started off fairly mild.
But it wasn't long before he was yelling at the refs (who no doubt could hear him from the rafters of the nosebleed section?) and screaming for fouls that weren't called on Bradley and about ones that were on SIU.
More than once he dropped the F-bomb, with not only his own children sitting next to him, but several other children in close proximity. He was not bashful about using it.
According to an already almost 10-year old article from Boston University, fan behavior at sporting events in a sociological phenomenon that brings out the worst in some.
Leonard Zaichkowsky, an SED Professor of Development Studies and Counseling, was quoted in the article saying that fan behavior at both professional and college sporting events is crazy and getting crazier.
"The trouble at men's events occurs when fans forget that sporting arenas are public places where ordinary rules for social conduct apply," Zaichkowsky said.
While the article is old, the problem is apparently still very current.
Ultimately, I was grateful my own children weren't with me. I'm not good at confronting people under the best of circumstances, and I think I'm smart enough not to confront someone in a situation like that.
But I couldn't help but start imagining what this guy must be like as a person. I started watching him for cues, and also watching his children and significant other. She was clearly embarrassed by his behavior, but never said a word to him or tried to calm him down. He continued to throw his fists in the air and act like a bully. It wasn't long before I was picturing him as an abusive, mean person.
That's probably not fair, and I'm sure it sounds like I was rushing to judgment. He did show a soft side in the way he handled his children, but I couldn't help but wonder what kinds of words and actions he must use at home, if these are ones he's willing to use in public with strangers all around.
And above all, it clouded my impression of SIU fans. I know it's not fair, but it's human nature - and in the end this guy probably did a lot more harm to the school and team he was so passionate about than good.
And as for the lesson he's teaching his children... how sad.